Cut Short: Stuart Hall Vs. Martin Ward Over Before It Begins

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND – Martin Ward had offered to give his right hand in exchange for Stuart Hall’s recently acquired world bantamweight title belt, yet before a passionate crowd at the Metro Radio Arena on the banks of the River Tyne, Saturday, he wasn’t even afforded the chance to throw one. At the end of a tense opening session, Hall (16-2-1, 7 KO) rounded upon Ward in a corner and inadvertently scraped his bald head across the challenger’s right eye. Crestfallen, Ward (18-2-1, 4 KO) returned to his corner in an attempt to patch up the resulting deep gash with blood pumping down his right cheek — yet his big night was as good as over. Referee Marcus McDonnell had little option but to call time at 0:35 of the second round; deemed too short to determine a winner, the bout was declared a technical draw.

Commonwealth champion Ward, West Rainton, County Durham, had been derided as a world title challenger in the build up. Hall, too, had faced his fair share of criticism with regard to his own legitimacy as a world title holder — yet those looking to rail against men forced to operate within the flawed mechanisms of the sport’s world governing bodies are perhaps missing the point. Title belts are no longer markers that indicate who is the best fighter in the world — rather they’re bargaining chips to bigger paydays for those left jostling for position outside of the sport’s inner sanctum.

Hall need not apologise for winning one of these titles in the ring — nor should Ward for opposing him here. If this is the game we’re left with, then why criticise those that play it well? Dennis Hobson’s expert management aside, the duo managed to sell enough tickets to fill close to half of the 11, 000 seats — impressive numbers for a bantamweight contest — and generate a crackling atmosphere on a gloomy night in the north east of England.

The opening round may well have been a microcosm of how the match would have eventually unfolded. Ward (116 ¼), lithe and canny, countered the favourite with his educated left jab while the forward-pressing Hall (118), looking stronger and more confident, corralled his man against the ropes before firing off bursts of telling body punches. Would Hall have eventually overpowered Ward? Who knows? But we’re unlikely to see a rematch.

All smiles in the ring, Hall, Darlington, Co. Durham, will likely move on to accommodate the emerging Merseyside talent Paul Butler, who was ringside. Ward, who suffered five stitches (inside and out) in the aftermath, looked decidedly more downcast as he trudged back to his changing room — his life-changing opportunity gone before he could grasp it, perhaps never to return.

Popular Birtley technician John-Lewis Dickinson clinched the Lonsdale belt outright at cruiserweight with a measured display of boxing against Rotherham’s Neil Dawson. Dickinson (15-2, 4 KO) who was neat and tidy throughout, threaded home left jabs and right hands that often knocked Dawson’s head back as though on a swivel. Dawson (12-3, 5 KO) appeared to bother the champion with left hooks in round 2, but on the whole his porous defence left him fielding an inordinate number of head punches. Dawson’s resistance finally crumbled in round 9 as Dickinson landed a terse left hook and then set about the Yorkshireman before the bell. Thoroughly exhausted, Dawson took a standing eight count in the 10th before slumping to the canvas under an extended barrage. The time was 2:33.

British and Commonwealth welterweight boss Frankie Gavin toiled to his 19th victory (12 inside schedule) against stubborn Namibian Sacky Shikukutu (18-3-1, 12 KO). The visitor was awarded a knockdown in round 2 when both men’s feet seemed to tangle and would prove to be a thorn in Gavin’s side throughout — quite literally in fact. Shikukutu repeatedly landed hard left hooks to the body from his southpaw stance, one of which appeared to take Gavin’s wind in round 3.

Gavin, Birmingham, who looked depressed at his showing at the final bell, ultimately proved to have too much movement and guile and he popped his jab to good effect to see out a unanimous decision win via scores of 118-109 (twice) and 117-111.

Sedgefield junior welterweight prospect Bradley Saunders (9-0, 7 KO) beat up South African-born Scot Mitch Prince (12-3-2, 1 KO) throughout four rounds of helter-skelter action. Saunders dropped Prince twice in the opener with vicious hooks, yet had to be warned for hitting his man while down. Over-eager and keen to make an impression, Saunders struggled for accuracy in rounds 2 and 3 before settling down again to dispatch his man in round 4. Saunders pole-axed Prince with a left hook to the body for a count early in the session and then followed up with a short right that tilted Prince, thoroughly beaten, forward onto his knee at the 1:10 mark.

Sunderland’s Kirk Goodings and Fishburn’s Gary Fox produced the fight of the night in a hotly-anticipated (and supported) local derby that took place long after many had wandered off to find the nearest nightclub. English lightweight champion Goodings (11-1, 3 KO) weathered an early onslaught from the obstinate Fox before pulling away after a fiercely contested 4th — hurting Fox to the body and then bludgeoning him to defeat in round 8.

Further down the bill, rock-hard Atherton journeyman William Warburton (11-60-3, 2 KO) looked unlucky to have been on the wrong side of a 59-57 points verdict to Slough prospect George Michael Carman (14-1-1). Warburton gave the younger man a torrid examination, splattering his nose with vicious right uppercuts against the ropes while setting about him repeatedly with powerful hooks delivered with both hands. Carman, a nice enough boxer, looked humbled on the final bell while Warburton merely shrugged his shoulders and moved on. It’s a tough game, this boxing.

About Andrew Harrison